In a year that keeps shoving unpredictability down our throats like McDonald’s Travis Scott meal, any sense of “normal” is a saving grace.
We’re creatures of habit, after all. That’s why March and April seemed to drag on while we were pinned down in our home, only leaving for food and to walk the dog. May slowly appeared, then it got warmer, and June and July ended in an instant. Soccer was back and so was basketball. Even baseball agreed to play.
We still couldn’t go anywhere (safely) and now here we are. Somehow in the middle of September, with a pandemic still thriving and the 2020-21 Premier League season in full bloom.
Where has time gone?
We, as a collective human race, have grown so accustomed to the lockdown life that it’s what our realities have adjusted to. Summer has slipped through our fingers like it once did when we were kids.
Even with how weird our social distancing routines have become, every day something arises that knocks us from our new mental stasis. A politician says something insensitive, a natural disaster triggering existential dread or a new crime is captured and sent unfiltered to the masses.
That’s when the anxiousness hits. Has the world lost its mind? We want to yell into the void for everybody to calm the fuck down. We want the year to end. We want to return to a more “normal” time when we could mind our own business and live how our nostalgia tells us what it was like before coronavirus.
It’s the uncertainty that worries us. And while much, much bigger events are unfolding, we can always escape into our oasis, our sports bubble. And in this space we realize that this Premier League season could be as predictable as ever. All you have to do is watch what happened with Leicester City and West Bromwich Albion.
The darling of our Outside the Top 6 clubs last season had a dramatic fall during Project Restart. The Champion League hopefuls saw their dream crash and burn as fast as Messi’s run on the transfer market.
Injuries and suspensions played major roles in Leicester City’s summer drought. Ricardo Pereira knee injury pre-pandemic was worse than originally feared, Ben Chillwell was sidelined and joining him was attacking maestro James Maddison. On top of that, the Foxes’ best center back Çağlar Söyüncü was suspended for the final three matches.
The squad depth was put to the test and Brendan Rodgers failed. Would it carry into the first act of the 2020-21 script? We received our answer in the 56th minute.
Same Old Leicester City
Since Leicester won the title in 2016, they have finished 12th, 9th, 9th and 5th in the table. It’s this model of consistency that any team outside of the top 6 would sacrifice their youth academy for. They’re never in any danger of relegation and the top teams in England continue to poach their talent. It seems like the culture around the club is steady with strong family ties keeping the ship financially afloat. They also have this big club mindset from Rodgers that has them approach every match against their peers with the expectations of winning.
Leicester City have proved to be savvy in the transfer market by buying low and selling high with the likes of N’Golo Kante, Riyad Mahrez, Danny Drinkwater and now you can add Chillwell to the list.
It appears they have done it again with right back Timothy Castagne. The Belgian from Championship League darling Atalanta isn’t known for his goal-scoring but that’s exactly what he did the first time in a Leicester City shirt.
That’s when the floodgates opened Sunday morning against West Brom. Jamie Vardy closed out the match with two penalties that were never in question. And while the incumbent golden boot winner grabbed the headlines, stalwarts in the starting VI like Wilfred Ndidi, Harvey Barnes and Youri Tielemans were there to add an extra spark.
That spark is the difference between Liecester and West Brom.
Bad Timing, Baggies
West Brom are back in the Premier League after a two-year hiatus. Their turnover has been dramatic. They have loads of Championship quality talent in the squad with a handful of Premier League send offs like Charlie Austin and Callum Robinson.
While they were able to do a bit of business this summer by signing the likes of Grady Diangana for $15 mil and Matheus Pereira for $10 mil, questions remain if it will be enough to stay competitive.
Two seasons ago, Cardiff and Fulham were unable to secure a second consecutive season in the English top flight after promotion. Last year, it was only Norwich City who dropped straight back to the Championship.
With the financial uncertainties of the Covid-19 pandemic ahead for many clubs in England, it’s hard to justify newly promoted teams splashing the cash this season. They simply can’t afford to stay up against solidified Premier League clubs and their wage bills. And who can blame them when grabbing the Premier League TV money and banking on parachute payments for the next few years could keep your club from vanishing.
What happened Sunday morning is a sign of what’s to come. Established sides have retained their talent while the new clubs lack the pocketbook depth to invest in their Premier League futures. Sure, there will be a surprise result or two, but come next spring, the clubs expected to struggle will be at the bottom of the table. They will leave the rest of 11 clubs outside of the top 6 to battle for mid-table obscurity.
And maybe that’s okay for the neutral fan. There is something comforting in this Occam’s razor approach to how the relegation battle will shake out. No surprises; no complicated results to hash out.
However, it is 2020 and who knows what 2021 has in store. Maybe West Brom will fight and scratch their way to 17th. Let’s just say I’m not willing to wager on it.